Monday 31 December 2018

Out and About. A Review of this past Year 2018

Pallas's Leaf Warbler

Here is the now customary, annual but by no means comprehensive, review of my birding and other natural history exploits in 2018. It has been quite a year and took me to some beautiful and far flung destinations as well as some that were more local and mundane. I do hope you enjoy looking at the images. Every one of the images has a pleasant memory for me.

On a more sombre note, each time I go to look at and appreciate my wonderful fellow inhabitants of this planet I feel, increasingly, an undercurrent of anxiety and worry that troubles me greatly and I find myself reflecting on how much longer I will be able to get such enjoyment from the world about me.There is, for me now, a sense of foreboding, that is already taking the edge off the simple pleasures of watching and enjoying the natural world.

The reason being that Nature is in a very parlous state worldwide and here is why.

Humankind has wiped out 60% of all animal populations since 1970.

Since the dawn of civilisation  83% of all mammals and 50% of all plant species have been lost.

Even if the destruction was to stop today, which it will not, it would take the planet 5-7 million years to recover.

It cannot go on this way and although we are headed for ecological disaster, the dire warnings of the dangers to our very  existence are to a large extent ignored by governments around the world. I fear for future generations as the natural world becomes ever more beleaguered and the human race becomes ever more detached from the natural world that they treat with such worrying indifference or disdain.

People still see fit to kill animals and birds for pleasure. Destroy huge areas of forest for profit and short term gain. What will they, what will we do, when it is all gone?

The British Isles, where I live, has no reason to feel self satisfied or complacent as the continuing scandal of birds of prey being illegally killed wherever there is a grouse moor nearby is a national disgrace supported by complicit politicians who have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo for an elitist clique of landowners and themselves, and who turn a blind eye to the illegal activities of gamekeepers knowing that there is only a slim chance of them getting caught or ever being held responsible for their crimes.

Foxhunting, although banned in this country, is rife, with hunts routinely and blatantly breaking the law, killing foxes knowing they have virtual immunity from redress as the police show little interest and indeed often support the hunts, and those who are meant to dispense justice pass meaningless light sentences.

Badger culling has been proven to be ineffective against preventing bovine TB but dogmatically this Government, with a nod and a wink to its cronies in the National Farming Union (NFU), sticks to its bone headed policy of killing thousands of badgers contrary to the scientific findings thrust before their blinkered eyes.

Time is running out very fast now and it may even be too late. That is why I feel such impotence and rage against those who have let us down so badly. Damn them all.

Now on to more pleasant matters ................................


Dwarf Bittern

I went to see this tiny heron on Fuerteventura with my good friend Badger
Many birders from Britain and Europe took the opportunity to go and see
this rare bird which really should have been in tropical Africa and not in a
rocky barranco (a wet gully) on Fuerteventura, one of The Canary Islands

Male Fuerteventura Stonechat

This is an endemic species to Fuerteventura and by chance was in the same
barranco as the Dwarf Bittern. I have always wanted to see one, having a 
great interest in stonechats in general and now my chance came. 
A real delight to see.

Hume's Leaf Warbler

A tiny and elusive  Asiatic warbler, which was way off course in Norfolk at an
 unseasonal time of year that I went to see with Moth, a birding colleague. 
It was a very cold day but seeing this little bird certainly made up for any 
discomfort. It had gone the day after we saw it and I feared for its survival

Male Hawfinch

I made my annual visit to The Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire to once more see
this beautiful chunky finch with its enormous head and formidable bill feeding
  below the Yews at Parkend. The males are particularly attractive.


Male Hawfinch

I just could not get enough of Hawfinches this year which has been notable for 
an invasion of these birds into southern Britain following a failure of their food
supply on mainland Europe. This time it was a visit to Romsey in Hampshire 
where they were coming to drink at a puddle after cracking cherry stones. 
Mind you it took a very long wait until I had the opportunity to photograph 
this ultra shy finch but it was well worth it.

Female Horned Lark

This bird spent a month or more on the banks of Staines Reservoir in Middlesex.
It created a lot of  interest as it was one of the North American races and is likely
to be split into a separate species in future, so was very popular with the twitching
fraternity. In Britain they are known as Shore Larks

Adult male Black Redstart

A real stunner of a bird and a delight to see, inhabiting an unlikely backyard on
a housing estate at Leighton Buzzard in Hertfordshire. I had the luxury of sitting 
in my car to take photos while it hopped about just feet away from me.A lady 
photographer who had driven all the way from Yorkshire especially, brought the 
moss covered stone to create that special effect!

Ross's Gull

A beautiful Arctic gull that found itself spending time at Radipole Lake
in Dorset. They look too delicate to survive all year in the Arctic but that
is what they do,so the worst of our winter weather held no concerns for it
 Their head is atypical for a gull in looking more like that of a dove



This delicate Scandinavian thrush, fluffed up against the bitter temperatures and
snow came to feed on berries on an ornamental tree right outside our window 
for a couple of days.


This belligerent bird shared the ornamental berry tree with many others of its
kind including the Redwing shown above.They were all starving and the tree
and its berries undoubtedly proved a salvation for them against the bitter cold
and freezing snow. They stripped the tree of its hundreds of berries in two days


I spent a day in a hide waiting to see this elusive bird. It was well worth it as
it is very difficult to see one perched otherwise.It was nice to photograph it but
equally nice to be able to study its colourful plumage at such close quarters

Barn Owl

A lucky encounter during daytime at Farmoor Reservoir in Oxfordshire
on a windy morning.The owl was hunting from fence posts presumably 
very hungry after the snow that had hidden its rodent prey for days had 
finally melted

Adult Mediterranean Gull

This was one of hundreds that gather annually in a pre-breeding assembly at
Hayling in Hampshire. Arguably one of the most beautiful gulls in the world 
when in breeding plumage. Thankfully their numbers are increasing in Britain
An all too rare success story


Black Grouse

I go every year to see these birds at their dawn lek in the Berwyn Mountains
of Wales and am never disappointed. The lek only lasts for a couple of hours 
and then it is all over until the next morning

Male 'Channel' Wagtail

Now something of a regular at Farmoor Reservoir in Oxfordshire this
hybrid between our native Yellow Wagtail and the Blue headed Wagtail
from across The Channel is certainly well worth the effort to go and see
 as its plumage is very attractive

Black necked Grebe

Nowadays an annual spring migrant passing through Oxfordshire. This one was in 
the full glory of its summer plumage and spent a few days at Grimsbury Reservoir 
in the Banbury 

Green Heron

A small North American heron that somehow found its way to rural
Pembrokeshire in Wales. This was the third one I have seen in Britain 
and like the others was very confiding.


Yellow Wagtail

An annual spring migrant to Farmoor Reservoir, the males usually arrive first and
adorn the grass banks by the Thames Water Works. They are always a joy to see in
their bright lemon yellow and lime green plumage

European Cuckoo

This bird affectionately known as 'Colin' has visited Thursley Common
in Surrey for at least three consecutive years. It shows no fear of humans
and as a consequence has become a major attraction for birders and
photographers alike

Common Redstart

A pair of these summer visitors are usually to be found at the
same location as Colin the Cuckoo, coming to the mealworms
put out for the cuckoo and providing great photo opportunities
Duke of Burgundy

A rare and endangered butterfly that is now being brought back
from the brink of extinction in Britain thanks to the efforts of 
butterfly conservationists. A little gem of an insect

Black necked Grebe

Following the one at Banbury, another, also on spring migration, stopped off 
at Farmoor Reservoir for a couple of days much to the delight of everyone as 
it spent much of its time very close to the reservoir wall.

Marsh Fritillary

A very beautiful and strongly marked fritillary that like most fritillarys
in Britain is much reduced in numbers and only survives due to efforts to
preserve its particular habitat requirements on reserves. This one was near
Warminster in Wiltshire.

Pearl bordered Fritillary

This individual was found roosting in the late afternoon as the sun
went down on a lovely reserve near Arundel in West Sussex. As
with all fritillarys it has exquisite underwing patterning


Arguably Britain's most spectacular butterfly and certainly the largest.
It is now confined to the Norfolk Broads due to draining of its habitat.
It required a long car journey to go and see it but it is always worth
making the time as there is nothing better than to see one or more
of these insects cruising around on a lovely sunny day in Norfolk


Affectionately known as Wally the Walrus
This  resulted in the most remarkable twitch I have ever made
Having always wanted to see a Walrus I never thought it would
be in Scotland where this individual decided to spend a few weeks
touring the northern extremities of Scotland before disappearing 
out to sea never to be seen again

Lady's Slipper Orchid

One of the most beautiful and rarest of native orchids to be
found in Britain. I stopped off in Cumbria to see these on 
my way back from twitching Wally. It was well worth it as 
had left it too late to see them in flower the year before


Red Kite

One of over a hundred that came to a feeding station in Galloway
in Scotland and demonstrated their extraordinary flying skills and
tested my camera and lens to their limits

Mating Black Hairstreaks

An extraordinary morning when this rare butterfly, confined to
just three counties, one of which is Oxfordshire, appeared in
unprecedented numbers much to the delight of myself and
Peter a fellow Oxfordshire butterfly enthusiast
Female Large Blue

Brought back from extinction in Britain this spectacular blue
butterfly is still very rare and attracts large numbers of 
enthusiasts to the reserves created for it. 
This one was on a reserve in Gloucestershire


One of my favourite birds. The black and white plumage and white piping
on its bill and forehead give it a really smart and dapper appearance.This
bird was on Skomer in Wales on an unforgettable and beautiful sun filled day

Immature Bonaparte's Gull

A small North American gull that found itself feeding at a sewage outfall with
many Black headed Gulls on the Thames at Crossness in Kent. It is slightly
 more delicate than a Black headed Gull but could certainly look after itself
amongst its larger more belligerent companions when we saw it.

Heath Fritillary

Just half an hour away from the Bonaparte's Gull in a nicer part of
 Kent,Moth and myself went to see this fritillary gracing the woodland
habitat specially maintained for it. Needless to say it is rare and in 
need of constant conservation effort

Male Purple Emperor

H.I.M His Imperial Majesty. Enigmatic, frustrating, capricious but totally 
and utterly beguiling. If butterflies can be regal then this is. Much sought 
after by enthusiasts, we are fortunate to have them at Bernwood Forest which 
straddles the border of  Oxfordshire  and Buckinghamshire. I go every June 
to see them. Just look at the purple on those wings! Sensational!

Pied Crow

Normally found in Africa this individual toured England having first arrived in
Hull, possibly on board a ship from North Africa. Nonetheless I made an effort to
go see it while it was residing near Bristol for a few days. It managed to become
 a local celebrity in the shopping square it frequented, being fed scraps by the 
local cafe owner

Atlantic Puffins

Everyone's favourite seabird surely? This group were standing about on one of
The Farne Islands when I visited there to see the seabird colonies. They really
are irresistible and so photogenic.


Rose ringed Parakeet

Recognised as a British Bird although its origins are in Asia. Their numbers
are growing and it is expanding across England. There is a thriving colony in
Regents Park, London, much to the delight of tourists, and where this one was
photographed coming to be fed by the tourists

Greater Sandplover

A UK species tick for me, which led me a merry dance in East
Yorkshire but I finally had the satisfaction of seeing this ultra rare
vagrant to Britain and as a bonus it was in full summer plumage. 
It was gone the next day.

Silver Spotted Skipper

One of my favourite butterflies and one of the latest in the year to fly. I always
associate them with hot summer days on The Downs that lie on the Oxfordshire
Buckinghamshire border

Scotch Argus

A new British butterfly tick for me and it sure took some finding
believe me. Not because it is rare but the weather was awful and
I had to kick around in the grass for ages to find one. This was 
at a famous butterfly hotspot - Arnside Knott in Cumbria.


Brown Hairstreak

I look for these every year in Oxfordshire and usually find at least a couple
giving sensationally close views as they gather nectar to sustain them through 
their short lives.In my opinion the most attractive of the five species of hairstreak 
butterfly that live in Britain, based on their bright gingerbread underwing colour 
and white streaking that gives them their generic name

Adult Sanderlings

These two were  summer migrants returning from their Arctic
breeding grounds and stopping off at Farmoor Reservoir to
refuel for a day before moving southwards, maybe as far as Africa

Roseate Tern

A real mega bird for Oxfordshire and a nice and unexpected addition to
my County list. It was only present for one day but most serious county
 birders got to see it as the day progressed. There was no sign of it the
next day

Spotted Crake

It required a long drive to Gibralter Point NNR in Lincolnshire to see
 but it was well worth it to encounter this desirable crake which showed
itself exceptionally well in front of the Mere Hide on the early morning 
when I visited.

Green Sandpiper

I spent a pleasant day at Slimbridge WWT photographing and watching
various waders of which this species was by far the most co operative.

Juvenile Knot

A very confiding individual that spent a few days wandering up and down
the concrete bank of the central causeway at Farmoor Reservoir, Oxfordshire 
alternately feeding and resting whilst showing not one jot of alarm at the 
many admirers that came to see it during its stay

Great Shearwater

I went out to sea off The Scillies in Cornwall on a special pelagic
trip to see this species and managed to see hundreds. Another lifetime
ambition achieved and a real thrill to see them so close.

Northern Gannet

A spectacular seabird that is common around our coasts but still magnificent
when viewed closely. This was seen at the same time as the Great Shearwaters
attracted by a feeding frenzy of Blue finned Tuna



My birding pal Moth and myself made a special trip to the
RSPB Reserve at Bempton in North Yorkshire to see this very
confiding individual that allowed us to approach ridiculously 
closely and much to our mutual delight.

Adult Pomarine Skua

Having seen the Wryneck Moth and myself drove fifty miles north to see
this charismatic bird at South Gare in Yorkshire which, like the Wryneck
showed down to just a few feet

Juvenile Grey Phalarope

A storm driven individual that turned up on an inland lake in Warwickshire for
two days before heading for its true winter home far out in the Atlantic Ocean

Kruper's Nuthatch

A week's holiday in Lesvos Greece allowed me the opportunity to
catch up with this diminutive nuthatch that is found nowhere else
in Europe.


Isabelline Shrike

A trip to south Devon allowed me to seek out this rare 
migrant shrike that was well to the west of its normal 
winter range. It remained by its favourite golf course 
for a number of days

Grey Catbird

Normally found in summer in North America and migrating to South
America to winter it was almost my bird of the year and only the second 
to be seen in mainland Britain. It found some rough pasture much to its 
liking at Land's End, Cornwall and unbelievably remained for two weeks 
allowing many birders to go and see it and add it to their list.

Stejneger's Stonechat

It spent over three weeks in a reedy ditch on the north Norfolk
coast at Salthouse and proved highly popular as it was thought
to be a Stejneger's Stonechat which has recently been split from
Siberian Stonechat. Currently its DNA is being investigated to
see exactly what species it is. 

Update - It was found to be a Stejneger's!

Great White Egret

A regular bird in Oxfordshire now as the British population slowly 
expands. Although no longer a great rarity it is still a good bird to see.
This one was at Blenheim Palace at Woodstock in Oxfordshire.


Pallas's Leaf Warbler

I have not seen one of these for some years so it was nice to catch up with
this one at Easington in East Yorkshire in the company of Hugh, another
birding colleague. About the size of a Goldcrest it was the very devil to follow
in the leaves and twigs as it was hardly ever still for a second
Water Rail
One of the regular birds to be seen at Farmoor Reservoir in Oxfordshire
during the winter months. I never tire of seeing them and they seem to be
particularly co operative here, much to the delight of one and all. This is
one of my favourite images.

Giant Antpitta

This is a species I have always longed to see and finally my dream had
come true when I saw this one on a birding trip to Ecuador this month.
I was certainly not disappointed. An absolute stonker of a bird and so

very fortunate to see it

Rufous crowned Antpitta

Without doubt the star bird of my trip to Ecuador and bird of the year for me
To see one is truly remarkable as they are so rare, unpredictable and enigmatic.
To see one so close and for such an extended period of time was in the realms
of fantasy. I will never forget  it and the whole experience in its home in 

the Cloud Forest

Juvenile Harpy Eagle

It took a two hour walk through the Cloud Forest to see this superb raptor.We

 admired it for five hours, as we sat exhausted and sweat soaked near its eyrie but 
I would do it all again tomorrow. Just such a fabulous creature I had to include
two images.
Sparkling Violetear

The colours of some of the hummingbirds I encountered
in Ecuador almost took my breath away with their sheer
beauty and form.This was one of the best of them.